Interactive Church: The Importance of Discipleship

Interactive Church

I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My assembly.
The common English translation of Jesus’ words substitutes the word “church” for “assembly”. But as we discussed previously, Jesus couldn't have used the word church, because that word wasn’t used in such context until 300 years after Jesus said this. It's an incorrect translation. The word Jesus used is correctly translated “assembly”. So if he didn’t mean a church, what kind of assembly was he talking about? He was talking about something much more interactive than what we're used to.

Jesus' Example of Interactive Discipleship

Earlier in the passage, we read that Jesus was in the middle of a question and answer session with his disciples when this topic came up. But there were a lot more than just 12 disciples as we might have thought. The 12 were BFFs Jesus called apostles, and they came from a larger group of many more disciples -- at least 120 men and women by the end of his ministry. It was a big group of people he was talking to. So while Jesus was talking about an assembly, he was also talking to an assembly. We don’t have to look too far then to understand what kind of assembly Jesus was talking about. Probably the assembly of disciples he was interacting with at that very moment!

Jesus was just one of many teachers in his day who were followed by large groups of disciples. Disciples weren’t students sitting in classrooms, reading books and taking notes. A disciple was in an interactive apprenticeship, emulating his teacher. They learned interactively by doing, not by hearing. For example, did Jesus feed the crowds of 5,000 men (not even counting women and children)? No, Jesus prayed, then instructed his disciples to do it. They did it again with 4,000. As Jesus walked on water, he taught Peter how to do it himself also. Jesus taught the 12 to heal the sick and cast out demons, then sent them out to try it for themselves. He did the same thing with 72 other disciples. Sometimes the disciples would make a mistake, but their teacher was always nearby to interact and correct them.

Discipleship Continued in the Church

This assembly of disciples spent three years interacting with Jesus. They emulated him, learned from him, lived together, ate together, traveled together, prayed together, fed the hungry, healed the sick, cast out demons, and proclaimed the Kingdom of Heaven. After Jesus left, did the disciples make some big change to their lifestyle? No! We read in the book of Acts about how Jesus’ assembly got started with these same 120 disciples. And this assembly did exactly what it had been doing before -- they continued emulating Jesus, learning about him, living together, eating together, travelling together, praying together, feeding the hungry, healing the sick, casting out demons, and proclaiming the Kingdom. And these disciples then taught others interactively through discipleship to do the same.

The disciples were simply carrying out Jesus’ instructions. Right before he left them, Jesus said to them, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.” Jesus’ command to make more disciples applies to the new disciples as well. It is through this interactive multiplication of discipleship that Jesus is building his assembly. The assembly Jesus is talking about is a continuation of the discipleship he started.

The Church Today

Discipleship is important, yet we don't find much discipleship going on in church today. The whole point of discipleship is that it’s interactive. You can listen to a hundred sermons and read the Bible a thousand times, and you’d be a terrible disciple if you didn’t get out and put it into practice. But church today is not an interactive experience but a passive one. Hands-on training has been replaced by spectating. Church is primarily built around a weekly program of elements that are repeated in the same order week after week. The most interactive parts of church are the sing along, giving the church your money, and if you’re lucky, two minutes of shaking hands with the people sitting nearby. After certain requirements are met, onlookers are allowed to participate in a limited capacity such as ushering or singing in the choir. But preaching, baptism, counseling, casting out demons, healing the sick, and other important ministries are reserved for, what I call “professional Christians” -- the pastors and priests who get paid to do the ministry that Jesus commanded all disciples to do. Why aren’t these professionals teaching others how to do these things as Jesus commanded? Because if they train others to do their ministry, they might lose their jobs!

So chairs and pews are arranged in a row, not facing each other, but a stage where the action happens while the congregation idly looks on. The focus is not on the assembly, but the pastor or priest at the front. Churchgoers passively listen to sermons about how they can improve their lives, be a better person, or avoid condemnation. The largest churches become popular because they are more about self-help teaching than the gospel. Rather than teaching people how to listen to God, church leaders teach people how to listen to their teaching. Yet their teaching usually doesn’t come from God, but years and years of seminary training, study, and preparation. The one chance churchgoers get to interact with God directly is praising God through music, and even that is often seen as just a way to get people emotionally stirred up so the sermon sounds more impactful than it actually is.

Interactive Leadership

It’s shocking that these church leaders often spend years studying the Bible, and yet completely ignore the instructions of Jesus recorded there:
“But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ.” 
So then, is it right to receive teaching from a pastor? Is it right to call your priest “Father”? Is it right for a church to appoint leaders other than Jesus? As Paul wrote to Timothy, “There is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus”. Not a pastor, not a priest, not an apostle, not a prophet. Only Jesus. If we are all brothers as Jesus said, we are all equal. Those who spend years at seminary, are ordained, or wear a special costume don’t have some special calling or anointing that the rest of believers don’t. Ministry isn’t just for a few, but for all members of the assembly.

This does not mean that the assembly doesn't have leaders (we'll talk more about this in a future post). After all, Jesus was talking about the assembly because he was appointing Peter as its first leader. But Jesus said, “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.” Leaders should be humbling themselves and exalting others by teaching them how to take on ministry roles themselves. They should teach interactively just like Jesus. Leaders are not just to make disciples, but teach the disciples to lead and make disciples themselves.

Interactive Church

Imaging what it would be like to be part of an interactive assembly like this. It's not where you go to receive, but to give. The leader's job is to facilitate an environment where everyone would contribute in their own unique way, building a true community. There wouldn't be a stage for one person, but chairs could be arranged facing each other so the focus can be on the assembly. Rather than creating barriers and requirements to meet before getting involved, the leader would encourage you to take on more responsibility. You could learn to preach the gospel, heal the sick, and cast out demons through hands-on training. You would be free to make mistakes because you'd have a mentor nearby to help you do better the next time. As you gain experience, you would become a mentor yourself and teach others to do the same. It would allow you to learn and grow not just with knowledge, but experience teaching others, because the best way to learn is to teach. This is discipleship as Jesus commanded. This is a true assembly.


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